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The Strangely Suggestive Power of Birdsong

It can lead men to buy organic carrots.
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(Photo: Wikimmedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimmedia Commons)

Have you ever come home from the supermarket, pulled out a package of organic vegetables from your reusable bag, and thought, "Why did I buy these?"

Well, perhaps it was the sound of birdsong a savvy store manager piped into the store.

A new Swedish study finds male shoppers were more willing to buy organic carrots if the sound of nature—specifically, the song of the pied flycatcher—was playing in the background while they strolled through the produce section.

While this effect was fairly robust among men, it was not found at all among women. This is telling, given that the only study we could find on gender and organics found Spanish women "are more proactive in the consumption of organic food" than men.

Letting the natural world seep surreptitiously into a man's subconscious could be a sneaky way to raise profits.

"The implication for food retailers is that sounds of nature can be used as a tool to influence those groups less inclined to purchase organic foods, such as men," writes a research team led by Sara Spendrup of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

The experiment, described in the journal Appetite, was conducted over 12 days in a supermarket in the Swedish city of Lund. The 627 participants revealed their attitudes toward the natural world as well as their willingness to buy some specially promoted carrots.

The researchers placed one of three signs near the aforementioned vegetables: "Eat more carrots," "Eat more organic carrots!," or "Eat more climate-friendly carrots." On some days of the study, the birdsong was heard in the background, while on other days it was not.

While the birdsong produced no notable effects on most of their measures, the researchers found men, but not women, were significantly more willing to buy organic carrots while it was playing.

"Compared to women, the men in our study expressed a lower connectedness to nature, and were less predisposed toward buying organic products," they write. "It is possible that, as a group, the men in our study were at an earlier stage of adopting organic behaviors, and the nature sounds acted as a catalyst pushing them closer to action."

As we've noted, there is little evidence that organic produce is actually healthier than the conventionally produced variety, and (unlike in this study) it usually costs more. So it can be argued that letting the natural world seep surreptitiously into a man's subconscious could be a sneaky way to raise profits.

Then again, perhaps nature sounds can inspire other pro-environmental behavior, such as recycling. It's definitely a subject worth exploring—and tweeting about.


Findings is a daily column by Pacific Standard staff writer Tom Jacobs, who scours the psychological-research journals to discover new insights into human behavior, ranging from the origins of our political beliefs to the cultivation of creativity.Advertisement — Continue reading below